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When you think of the perfect travel jacket, a vest with lots of pockets probably comes to mind.
It does for Jeffrey Hayzlett. His current favorite is the new RFID Travel Vest from SCOTTeVEST, which comes with an eye-popping 26 pockets that fit everything from car keys to a tablet. That’s right, the vest is all pockets, and you can pack even a 12.9-inch iPad Pro into it. There’s even a pocket you can put your wallet or phone in to protect from hackers.
“I use the vest when traveling, and I put all my electronic gear in it that I have to take out for the TSA,” says Hayzlett, a TV producer based in New York. “I have assigned pockets for my cell phone, charging cables, ear pods – everything.”
With the weather turning colder in most parts of North America, travelers are searching for the right jacket to take on their next journey. No one knows the exact size of the travel apparel market, but from all outward appearances it seems to be growing.
“Travel jackets are cool,” says Kunal Sawhney, CEO of Kalkine Group, an Australian equities research firm with a specialty in lifestyle brands. “But mainstream adoption remains elusive.”
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He says travelers during the pandemic generally like the idea behind travel jackets. Cutting back on carry-on luggage and avoiding fees has a timeless appeal. But during the pandemic, the thought of minimizing contact with the airport, plane and other passengers has become particularly attractive.
But how do you do that? There are lots of ways, and no one-size-fits-all solution.The coats are ranging from specialized garments created for travelers to multipurpose jackets that don’t necessarily advertise that you’re a traveler. (Note: Because I’m a guy, I evaluated the men’s jackets where possible. But women’s versions are available for many of the products mentioned here.)
New travel jackets have more than pockets
Johannes Larsson is a fan of the Patagonia Men’s Nano Puff Travel Jacket. It doesn’t have all the pockets of the Baubax or SCOTTeVEST, but it fits into a small space. Larsson, a business consultant who lives on Cyprus and travels frequently, says the Puff is perfect for everyday use, climbing, hiking, or running. “The best part is it can double as a pillow because of the softness of its synthetic down feathers that feel incredibly comfortable,” he says.
Walter Sky’s WS-J02 is another travel jacket that embraces a less-is-more philosophy. Like the nano, it’s a mid-layer jacket that’s ideal for in-between weather. It’s made of breathable, stretchable polyester. Other than a few thoughtful inside pockets, the WS-J02 doesn’t aim for the jet set. Instead, it makes itself a viable option for anyone who wants to store a few extra items – and look sharp.
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Light travel jackets embrace function and form
Some of the most popular new jackets balance function and form. For example, the new Ibex Shak Lite, made from merino ponte knit, emphasizes its temperature regulating and antimicrobial properties. As with other merino wool jackets, it stays odor-free so that you can wear it for your entire trip without washing, which allows you to pack less. The Shak has two zippered hand pockets and two interior drop pockets, but it isn’t trying to be wearable luggage.
Unbound’s compact travel hoodie is also worth considering. It’s wrinkle-resistant, compact, and takes a nice picture. The merino wool is also soft, light and flexible. Unbound founder Dan Demsky told me he skipped the frivolous pockets when he created the hoodie, instead opting for a “sleek, timeless, and minimalist design.” So even though you can’t cram all of your electronics into it, it might be the ideal companion if you’re headed for in-between weather on your next trip.
These mid-layer travel jackets are cool
If you get cold on a plane or are flying somewhere with a cooler climate, you have choices. One of the newest mid-layer jackets is the Hilgard Quilted Down Jacket from Linksoul. It’s by far the lightest and most versatile of the puffer jackets. With four internal pockets, it almost crosses the line into the wearable luggage category. Also, you can fold the jacket into its own interior pocket for easy carrying.
For a more severe winter, there’s Royal Robbins Switchform Jacket. It’s so comfortable that you can sleep in it, but it’s also made from recycled polyester and has a PFC-free waterproof finish, so it also has a conscience. My favorite feature is that it converts into a small carry-on bag so that you don’t have to lug a winter jacket around with you when the weather turns warm.
I’m partial to the layer method. I use the Kühl Interceptr FZ fleece jacket, which has two pockets for electronics, but is also comfortable and keeps me warm even on flights where they turn the air conditioner to zero degrees. I grab my Coalatree Camper Hooded Jacket if it’s freezing, which also folds into a neat pillow. If I’m headed somewhere with sub-zero temperatures, I’m leaning toward wearing the Switchform.
So what’s the right travel jacket for your next trip? It depends where you’re going, whether you need to use the jacket as an extra carry-on, and your personal style. But, like life itself, one size doesn’t fit all.
How to choose the right travel jacket
What do you need it to do? Travel jackets come in all shapes and sizes. First, think about what you need it to do. For some, the indispensable travel jacket is a sports coat. The newest innovation on that front are the wrinkle-proof blazers such as the xSuit 2.1. They’re as comfortable as pajamas, and they always look terrific. For others, wearable luggage that makes you look like you’re on a fishing expedition is the way to go.
How do you need it to look? How do you want to look in your travel jacket? Some of the most utilitarian travel jackets look like travel jackets (I’m lookin’ at you, Baubax). Others are so understated that you wouldn’t know they’re made for travelers. For example, the Bluffworks Travel Blazer I’ve worn for years is virtually indistinguishable from a regular blazer. But it’s a travel jacket.
How does it make you feel? In the travel jacket world, you have to imagine a gauge with merino wool on one side and goose down on the other. For me, at least, merino wool is the least comfortable fabric. (I’m terribly allergic to wool.) Goose down is the most comfortable. You have to figure out where the needle is on your jacket. Do you want something that never smells bad and don’t mind a little scratchiness? Then go for the merino. If you want to feel like you’re wearing a cloud but are OK with the animal welfare questions that goose down raises? Then go for the puffy.